MEIJI 1868: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Japan by Paul Akamatsu

MEIJI 1868: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Japan

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A densely factual account of the Tokugawa shogunate's decline in the mid-19th century and the civil strife that preceded the Meiji takeover in 1868. To this circumstantial narrative is prefixed a brief overview of incipient capitalist growth during the 18th and 19th centuries -- the extension of a money economy into the countryside, the rise of an urban culture, the considerable degree of state centralization, and the de facto power of the merchants. The book's concluding sections summarize the accomplishments of the new rulers who revived the emperor as the totem of national power. Under the Meiji, centralization was consummated, feudal structures abolished, currency reformed, industrial development actively subsidized, and a large, cheap labor force consolidated. Akamatsu points out that, although popular upheavals intensified toward the end of the Tokugawa reign, the Japanese masses played no active revolutionary role: in that respect the Meiji takeover was a very conservative coup d'etat. Some readers will be most interested in the rather hard-to-follow clashes and shifting interest-group alignments during the years of the Tokugawa effort to open the country to foreigners; others will focus on Akamatsu's references to the techo-industrial revolution which in the long run constituted the most important feature of both the Tokugawa and Meiji periods. Akamatsu leaves it to future scholars to elaborate the mechanisms of capital accumulation and compare this bourgeois revolution with those of Western Europe; nonetheless his study admirably reveals both the singularities and universal aspects of the Japanese experience.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1972
Publisher: Harper & Row